Glossary of Terms¶
Exonum documentation uses some specific terms to describe key Exonum concepts. Here, these terms are condensed to a single page.
All terms here are defined with Exonum in mind. For example, Transaction describes how transactions work in Exonum. Generally speaking, transaction may have many other meanings, but they are not covered in this document.
Aka service artifact
Factory for service instantiation. Artifacts are similar to classes in object-oriented programming while services are similar to objects. A single artifact may be used to instantiate zero or more services.
Aka auditing node
A full node in the blockchain network that does not participate in creating new blocks, but rather performs continuous audit of all transactions in the network. Auditors are identified by a public key within the blockchain network. Unlike validators, adding auditors does not create an overhead in transaction latency and throughput, so there can be hundreds of auditors in the same blockchain network.
Consider an Exonum blockchain that implements public registry in a particular country. In this case, auditing nodes may belong to non-government agencies which are interested in monitoring the operation of the registry.
The type of consensus, in which the participants are known in advance and are authenticated, usually with the help of public-key cryptography (such as digital signatures). Exonum uses authenticated consensus algorithm slightly similar to PBFT, in order to keep the system decentralized and withstand attacks by Byzantine validators.
Serialization of data stored in the blockchain and messages into a platform-independent sequence of bytes using the Protobuf serialization format. Binary serialization is used in Exonum for cryptographic operations, such as computing hashes and digital signing.
See Serialization for more details.
Aka normal block
An ordered list of transactions in a blockchain, together with the authentication by at least 2/3 of the validators set, and some additional information (such as the hash of the previous block and the hash of the blockchain state after applying the transactions in the block). The compact block form, in which transactions are replaced by the root of their Merkle tree, is used for communication with light clients.
Besides transactions, applying a block to the blockchain state comprises executing hooks for the currently active services.
An outcome of the consensus algorithm alternative to approving a block. Like normal blocks, block skips are stored together with authenticating info, but they are removed from the storage as soon as a newer skip or a normal block is approved.
Applying a block skip to the blockchain state is trivial: no calls to services are executed, so the blockchain state remains the same.
See Consensus article for reasoning behind block skips.
A distributed ledger, which uses hash linking to achieve immutability of the transactions log, and other cryptographic tools to improve accountability. Transactions in a blockchain are grouped in blocks to improve auditing by light clients.
Whereas the design goal of a distributed ledger is decentralized data management, one of the design goals of a blockchain is achieving accountability of the blockchain maintainers and auditability of the system by third parties (e.g., internal and external auditors, regulators and end users of the system).
Aka explorer, explorer service
A service that provides REST API and Websockets for monitoring blocks and transactions in Exonum blockchain. The explorer service allows obtaining the following information and executing the following actions via its endpoints:
- information on a specified range of blocks
- information on a block at a specific height
- information on a transaction specified by a hash
- sending a transaction into the pool of uncommitted transactions and broadcasting it to other nodes
- subscribing to block and / or transaction commit events.
See Other Services for more details.
The persistent state maintained by each full node in the blockchain network, to which transactions are applied. The consensus algorithm ensures that the blockchain state (not only the transactions log) is identical for all full nodes.
One example of built-in services is the supervisor. Indeed, if a supervisor service is not instantiated on the genesis block, service lifecycle cannot be controlled in the future.
A node in a distributed network that acts outside of behavior prescribed by the consensus algorithm in the network. Byzantine behavior may be caused by a malicious intent, malfunctioning software/hardware, or network connectivity problems.
Consensus algorithms that are able to withstand Byzantine behavior are called Byzantine fault-tolerant (BFT). Exonum uses BFT consensus inspired by PBFT. Exonum is able to tolerate up to 1/3 of validators acting Byzantine, which is the best possible number under the security model that Exonum uses.
A set of configurable parameters that determine the behavior of a full node. Configuration consists of 2 parts: global configuration and local configuration. Certain configuration parameters are defined by the core, e.g., the maximum number of transactions in a block. Services can define and manage additional configuration parameters too.
See Configuration for more details.
Aka consensus algorithm
A mechanism of reaching agreement among nodes in a network. In the blockchain context, consensus is required to withstand faults: nodes being non-responsive and/or outright trying to compromise the operation of the blockchain.
There are 2 main types of consensus:
- Authenticated consensus, in which the participating nodes are known in advance. This is the type of consensus implemented in Exonum;
- Anonymous consensus, in which the consensus participants are not known in advance. This type of consensus is commonly used in cryptocurrencies (e.g., Bitcoin).
Consensus messages include:
Precommitmessages that correspond to 3 phases of the consensus algorithm used in Exonum;
- Request messages used by full nodes to request missing data from peers;
Blockmessage used to transmit an entire block of transactions to a lagging full node;
- Auxiliary messages, such as
For example, the core includes a collection of system tables (such as a set of all transactions ever committed to the blockchain).
Structured presentation of a portion of the blockchain state. Similar to object-relational mapping. Data schemas may be used by services to access and modify their data. A schema can also be made public, allowing other services on the same blockchain to safely read service data, and for light clients to check Merkle proofs returned by the service.
Absence of a single point of failure in the system. For example, absence of a single administrator having privileges to perform arbitrary actions.
A public-key digital signature in the Ed25519 elliptic curve cryptosystem. The signature over a message proves that the signer knows a specific private key corresponding to a publicly known public key. A signature can be verified against this public key and the signed message, thus providing message authenticity (i.e., the message comes from a specific source) and integrity (the message is not modified after being signed). Ed25519 signatures are universally verifiable, meaning that a verifier does not need to know any additional information to verify a signature.
Ed25519 digital signatures occupy 64 bytes in the binary form. Exonum
sodiumoxide Rust crate (a
binding for Rust) to create and verify digital signatures
on full nodes, and TweetNaCl.js to perform
similar operations on light clients.
A distributed system that maintains a full transactions log for all operations in the system, so that any piece of data in the system has a verifiable audit trail. All transactions are authenticated, usually via public key cryptography used together with some form of timestamping to provide non-repudiation.
In a generic distributed ledger, the audit trail may be dispersed across the system participants. Thus, it may be difficult to argue about consistency of the whole system.
Aka consensus epoch
A node in the blockchain network that replicates all transactions in the blockchain and thus has a local copy of the entire blockchain state. There are 2 categories of full nodes in Exonum: validators and auditors.
The very first block in the blockchain. The genesis block does not link to the hash of the previous block in the blockchain; instead, this link is filled with a placeholder (32 bytes of zeros). The genesis block contains an initial global configuration and no other transactions.
Part of the configuration common for all full nodes. The global configuration is a part of the blockchain state. The core defines several global configuration parameters, which are mostly related to consensus and networking (e.g., a set of validators public keys).
Aka cryptographic hash
Aka service interface
Collection of transaction types that a service
is capable of handling. Fulfil the same role as interfaces in
programming languages (e.g.,
interface in Java or
trait in Rust):
a service can declare that it implements one or more interfaces,
thus allowing other services and light clients
to interact with the service through these interfaces.
Interfaces are an unstable feature of the Exonum framework; their specification may change in future releases.
Call from one service instance to another during transaction processing or other top-level calls in a block. Internal calls allow service to interact with each other and implement stateful call authorization (e.g., multi-signatures).
See Service Interaction for more details.
Internal calls are an unstable feature of the Exonum framework; their specification may change in future releases.
Unlike Rust services, execution of Java services is isolated within JVM, and their artifacts can be deployed on nodes at any time. This comes with the performance trade-off.
Aka lightweight client, thin client
A node in the blockchain network that does not replicate all transactions in the blockchain, but rather only a small subset that the client is interested in and/or has access to. Light clients can communicate with full nodes to retrieve information from the blockchain and initiate transactions. The proofs mechanism allows minimizing the trust factor during this communication and protecting the client against a range of attacks.
A part of configuration local to every full node. The local configuration is not a part of the blockchain state; instead, it is maintained as a local TOML file, which is read during the node startup. The core defines several local configuration parameters, such as the private key used to sign consensus and network messages created by the node.
An entity participating in creating blocks and setting the rules in a blockchain.
In permissioned blockchains, maintainers have known real-world identities, which are reflected in the blockchain protocol. The maintainers set up and administer validator nodes in the network, and agree on the changes in the transaction processing rules.
Consider an Exonum blockchain that implements a public registry in a particular country. In this case, the maintainer of the blockchain is a government agency or agencies, which are tasked with maintaining public registries by law.
In contrast, in permissionless blockchains (e.g., Bitcoin), maintainers are not reflected within the blockchain protocol. Validators in such networks are usually pseudonymous.
A cryptographic proof that certain data is a part of the cryptographic commitment based on Merkle trees or their variants. A Merkle proof allows compactly proving that certain data is stored at the specified key in the blockchain state. At the same time, the proof does not reveal other information about the state and does not require replication of all transactions in the blockchain network.
Merkle proofs are used in Exonum in the responses to read requests by light clients. Using proofs, a client can verify the authenticity of a response without needing to communicate with multiple full nodes or replicating all transactions in the blockchain.
Aka hash tree
A data structure based on a binary tree that allows calculating an aggregate hash from a list of elements in such a way that any particular element of the list is tied to the overall hash via a short link. (This link is called a Merkle path or Merkle proof.)
Exonum uses Merkle trees and a similar data structure for maps (Merkle Patricia tree) to collect the entire blockchain state into a single state hash recorded in blocks, and to provide proofs to light clients.
In cryptographic terms, a Merkle tree applies a commitment scheme to the list of elements in such a way that the size of any opening of the commitment is logarithmic with respect to the number of elements in the list.
A digitally signed piece of data transmitted through an Exonum network. There are 2 major kinds of messages:
- Consensus messages are used among full nodes in the course of the consensus algorithm;
- Transactions are used to invoke blockchain state changes and usually come from external clients.
Encapsulation of data migration in a service artifact. Defines logic to transform data of the old version of the service to a specific newer version. The output of a migration script is atomically applied to the database on every node in the network, provided that it is the same for all nodes. (This check is ensured by the supervisor.)
See MerkleDB for more details.
A blockchain in which maintainers are a limited set of entities with established real-world identities. Accordingly, validator nodes in a permissioned blockchain are few in number and are authenticated with the help of public-key cryptography.
Permissioned blockchains usually use variations of authenticated consensus.
An endpoint of a Rust service that is hosted on a private web server. Can be used to administer a local instance of the service. As an example, private API can be used to change the local configuration of a service.
Private key as per the Ed25519 specification. Each private key corresponds to a specific public key. The knowledge of a private key is necessary to create digital signatures over messages, which could be later verified against the message and the corresponding public key.
libsodium, private keys occupy 64 bytes in the binary
form: 32 bytes for the cryptographic seed used to generate the key,
and 32 bytes for the pre-calculated corresponding public key. The latter
32 bytes are redundant, but help speed up computations.
A public key as per the Ed25519 specification. Public keys are used to verify digital signatures over messages. A public key can be linked with a real-world identity. For example, public keys used in consensus are tied to specific validators, as only a specific validator is assumed to know the corresponding private key.
libsodium, public keys occupy 32 bytes in the binary
A service endpoint that can be used to retrieve data from the blockchain state. The data is usually returned with a proof that the data is indeed a part of the blockchain state and has been authorized by a supermajority of validators.
The implementation of read requests is runtime-specific. For example, read requests can be implemented via HTTP GET.
Container for services and artifacts, providing a single interface for the core to interact with. A runtime provides to the core service logic by executing it in a certain environment, such as a virtual machine.
Rust services have high performance, but are executed in the same context as the core, which may lead to security risks. Another peculiarity is that new Rust artifacts may only be deployed via node recompilation.
A process of converting Exonum data structures to a language-independent representation. Exonum defines (de)serialization rules for stored datatypes and messages. Each of these can be converted from/to 2 representations: binary and JSON.
The main extension point of the Exonum framework, similar in its design to a web service. Services define all transaction processing logic in any Exonum blockchain.
Externally, a service is essentially a collection of endpoints that allow manipulating data in the blockchain state and retrieving it, possibly with proofs. Internally, a service may define various entities, including table schema, configurable parameters, etc.
See Services for more details.
A point of communication with a service. There are several kinds of endpoints:
- Transactions allow modifying the service state.
- Service schemas allow to read service information from the database, which can be used by other services
- Read requests allow reading data from the blockchain state, usually together with a proof.
- Private APIs allow configuring the service locally.
- service initialization
- service being resumed
- before any transactions in every block are executed
- after all transactions in every block are executed
Together with transactions, before transactions / after transactions hooks constitute top-level calls performed within each block.
See Services for more details.
Lifecycle for artifacts and services defined in the Exonum core. It defines artifact / service states and allowed transitions among these states, together with the preconditions that must apply for the transition to occur.
For example, services may be instantiated, stopped, frozen, resumed, with zero or more data migrations occurring between stopping / freezing and resuming.
See Service Lifecycle for more details.
See Storage for more details.
See Supervisor for more details.
A structured collection of data (e.g., a map, set or a list) that provides a high-level abstraction on top of the blockchain state. Tables are used by services to simplify data management. Additionally, some types of tables allow computing Merkle proofs efficiently for table items.
An atomic patch to the blockchain state satisfying ACID criteria. Transactions are authenticated with the help of public-key digital signatures; i.e., the authorship of each transaction is known and cannot be easily repudiated. Transactions may be generated by various entities in the blockchain network, such as light clients.
Transaction verification rules, such as the validity of a digital signature in the transaction, are specified in the Exonum core. If the rules do not hold for a particular transaction, it does not change the blockchain state, but may still be recorded in the transaction log.
See Transactions for more details.
A full node in the blockchain network with the right to participate in the consensus algorithm to create blocks. In Exonum, validators are identified with the help of the global configuration, which contains public keys of all validators in the network. The set of validators can be changed by changing the global configuration. Usually, the set of validators is reasonably small, consisting of 4–16 nodes.